What do you think?
Rate this book
On an island of sandy beaches, dense jungles, and slumbering volcanoes, colonists seek to apply archaic laws to a new land, bounty hunters stalk the living for the ashes of their funerary pyres, and a smiling tribe is despised by all as traitorous murderers. It is here, in the midst of ancient tensions and new calamity, that two sisters are caught in a deadly web of deceits.
Arilou is proclaimed a beautiful prophetess one of the island's precious oracles: a Lost. Hathin, her junior, is her nearly invisible attendant. But neither Arilou nor Hathin is exactly what she seems, and they live a lie that is carefully constructed and jealously guarded.
When the sisters are unknowingly drawn into a sinister, island-wide conspiracy, quiet, unobtrusive Hathin must journey beyond all she has ever known of her world and of herself in a desperate attempt to save them both. As the stakes mount and falsehoods unravel, she discovers that the only thing more dangerous than the secret she hides is the truth she must uncover.
576 pages, Hardcover
First published December 16, 2008
"Well, what did I want, recognition? No, Hathin realized, I did everything I did because, well, I’m me."Frances Hardinge and her oddball magical fantastical stories that, far from the simplicity often expected of books aimed at slightly less wrinkled audience, are filled with thought-provoking multilayered and often ambiguous complexity, are undoubtedly my best literary discovery of 2013 so far. Her stories are soaked in belief that children's literature can in no way be inferior to that meant for adults, that a book "just for kids" is nonsense because excellent literature knows no age restrictions.
"Mob wasn’t people. It took people and folded their faces like paper, leaving hard lines of anger and fear that didn’t belong to them."Gullstruck Island, home to the ever-moody volcano chain towering over it in perilous slumber, is inhabited by an amalgam of native tribes that have mixed with colonizers of a few centuries ago and adopted the colonizers' worship of the dead ancestors, turning over the best areas of the island to the Domain of the Dead, the Ashlands. It is also a home to the Lost, the few special ones able to separate their senses from the body and send them miles and miles away independently from each other:
"Indeed, a gifted Lost might be feeling the grass under their knees, tasting the peach in your hand, overhearing a conversation in the next village and smelling cooking in the next town, all while watching barracudas dapple and brisk around a shipwreck ten miles out to sea."And Gullstruck is also home to the Lace, a small isolated tribe despised by everyone for the deeds of centuries ago, distinct with their obligatory never-faltering smiles and jewelled teeth, pushed to the fringes of this society, never accepted but grudgingly tolerated, mocked for their adherence to the legends of long ago, and underneath all the mockery and contempt persistently feared. And there is only a perilously thin edge separating distrust and fear from hatred, violence and tragedy.
"You never knew where you were with the smilers of the Lace. They were all but outcast, distrusted by everyone, scratching out a living in outskirt shanty towns or dusty little fishing villages."
"It was a joke, but centuries of distrust and fear lay behind it. Soon somebody would say something that was sharper and harder, but it would still be a joke. And then there would be a remark like a punch in the gut, but made as a joke. And then they would detain her if she tried to leave, and nobody would stop them because it was all only a joke..."
"As it happened, the girl supporting Arilou had a name too. It was designed to sound like the settling of dust, a name that was meant to go unnoticed. She was as anonymous as dust, and Skein gave her not the slightest thought. Neither would you. In fact, you have already met her, or somebody very like her, and you cannot remember her at all."And then the unthinkable happens, and Hathin is faced with more pain than anyone should ever experience, and she makes a choice to step out of the shadows and take a lead - because her celebrated sister is little but a burden, and her home is destroyed, and genocide against her people is in full swing, and revenge appears the only viable option, and grief is suffocating, and ability to think around the corners from years as Arilou's "mouthpiece" may come in handy when nothing else is left.
"Hathin was nowhere. Hathin was everywhere. Everything in the deathly landscape had her secretiveness, her careful blandness, her quietness, her stubborness. Hathin, whispered the wind-borne dust as it settled on the slopes. Hathin, lisped the ash as it rained upon the plain."
"And yet, while Minchard Prox slept, things were happening across the island which he had not guessed at as he reshaped the world with his pencil."This is the story of loss and grief, of duty and obligation, of courage and defiance, of traditions and customs, of bureaucracy and power, of legends and reality, of childhood and growing up, of trust and betrayals, of grudges and resentment, of ability to forgive and move on, of family and love, of wounds and pain and the ocean of hurt, and of amazing resilience and necessity to make the world whole again.
"There was, he reflected, a greatness that came only with a certain kind of blindness. Prox had a mind that clung to order, a world of properly folded napkins, account books, modes of address when meeting a duchess. Papers were his servitors – he could make them perform and pirouette."
'What do I do if nobody needs me?’And, of course, it's the story of finding yourself and learning to live with the new you. And the story of making choices that you will have to live with, and they all leave consequences. And the story that I someday plan to strategically leave just within the reach of my future hypothetical daughter and quietly watch her eyes light up as she discovers the oddball magic Frances Hardinge brings into the world through her stories.
‘What do you want to do?’ Prox asked quietly.
"Who am I? The shell-selling Lace girl, the attendant of Lady Arilou, Mother Govrie’s other daughter, the thing of dust, the victim, the revenger, the diplomat, the crowd-witch, the killer, the rescuer, the pirate?
I am anything I wish to be. The world cannot choose for me. No, it is for me to choose what the world shall be."
“The winds shifted again, the ashen clouds puckered and plummeted, and everyone glimpsed something enormous plunging through the valley and the town below: sleek, gray-brown, and muscular like an enormous serpent, its back strewn with timber and trees that it did not notice. Not fire but water, a dragon of scalding, murky, terrible water. As they watched, chunks of slope below them vanished as though bitten away by a vast, invisible maw. Bite after bite, working its way up the slope…”